Low key portrait with one speedlight
Since the day I picked up the camera first time, I have always been a natural light photographer. For most part of my photographic journey, I was quite happy about it and I always claimed, I don’t need anything else. High ISO performance on today’s camera is exceptionally good so why bother with flashes and speedlights, right? And for most part it works this way. But the uncomfortable truth behind this is that I don’t really know how to work with artificial light. As a consequence I always shot under available light and not all light, that was available to me (I am paraphrasing Joe McNally here).
Funny fact is that I always owned a speedlight. Nikon SB-800 available and ready to use but it actually never came out of the bag. Speedlights scared me and I always thought it is just too difficult to master them and that’s why I never tried. That “never” ends today. I will always prefer natural light to artificial but on the other side it is good to know how to use artificial light when circumstances are such that available light needs a little help. So I am embarking on a journey of learning to master it. Well, probably not master but at least be reasonable competent with it. But what to do with a Fuji gear and Nikon speedlight? How can I make the two talk together. I don’t. Smart guys at Cactus figured it out for us. The Cactus V6 wireless transceiver comes to my aid. It is capable of triggering and controlling the power of speedlights across many brands. It is something like universal PocketWizzard but much cheaper. I will need two of these units. One will function as a receiver connected to Nikon SB-800 and other will sit on hot-shoe of my camera in the role of transceiver. I won’t be going too much into detail on this. There is plenty of videos available on Youtube about how this works.
There are two other things I need to take care of. I will be shooting in my tiny apartment. Small enough to get lot of spill from flash everywhere. I need a way how to contain the light and control where it falls. A MagMod grid comes handy and will be an excellent solution for this purpose. I will be able to direct the light at particular place and prevent the spill around the room which has lot of items I don’t want in the photo. Thus I will keep the ambient light levels very low of kill them all together and use the speedlight as my sole light source. I am a sucker for low-key light and film noire style anyway. There are lots of photos with complete white background or almost no-shadow faces. It is not my thing. Shadow defines the subject as much as light does. At least thats my opinion.
Second thing I need to take care of is a model. Well there is nobody. I attempt to photograph myself. Yeah, selfie….I know I know. I am not the best looking and most photogenic chap but hey, I am trying to learn something here. So hope you bare with me. To make it more interesting, I put my Marmot down jacket on to look like I am observing a sunrise somewhere high in the mountains. To go with this scenario I am setting a custom white balance around 2500-3000K which will give very blueish ambient color. To counter that I put 3 CTL gels that come with MagMod kit onto speedlight to warm the light up.
Fujinon XF 50-150mm 2.8 OIS WR
Nikon SB-800 speedlight
MagMod grid, gel holder and 3x CTL gel
Phottix lightstand and umbrella head with cold shoe
Fujifillm Camera App to control the camera remotely
Here is the result. I picked few images out of many. Whole setup worked brilliantly. Triggers were reliable as far as I can tell. It was the first time I used them, so they are easy to learn for a complete novice. Only thing that worries me is that it is hard for me to read the small display but I can attribute that to my ever worsening eyesight.
RAW files were brought and postprocessed in Lightroom. I have to say though that JPG’s out of the camera were already brilliant. If I was behind the camera I could fine tune some details even more. Framing or small adjustments in composition, flash power etc. is bit cumbersome to do in front of camera. JPG images are razor sharp though. Fujinon XF 50-150mm 2.8 OIS WR is an exceptional lens and the short burst of flash freezes everything in frame so I can see every pore on the skin. I have to say though that result after processing the RAW files in Lightroom is not that mind blowing. If I compare RAW processed image and JPG straight out of the camera, there is night and day difference. Lightroom just doesn’t really know how to deal with X-Trans files. Unfortunately.